On Memorial Day, my friend, Brian, and I were standing by the barbecue because that is what men are supposed to do. He looked down at the half wine barrel I have sitting nearby and commented on it. At that moment it was filled to the brim with my daughter's toys. For the last year or so it has served me well as a makeshift toy cabinet for outdoor fun. It is weather resistant, durable, and it "corresponds" with my other outdoor containers.
As I discussed its merits with Brian I noticed that the staves had become loose and were beginning to pull away from the steel bands.
Being a little OCD about such things, I didn't hesitate to pull everything out of the barrel while I let the hose fill a couple five-gallon buckets. I then poured both buckets into the wine barrel and at that point it became apparent just how much the staves had shrunk and pulled away from the others. Within minutes all 10 gallons had drained from the barrel. So I filled the buckets again and added them to the barrel and this time it took a little longer for the water to drain.
I have repeated this step several times and each time I do so it takes longer for the water to drain. After about 24 hours the bottom 6 - 8 inches were basically water tight again. I'll keep adding water until the wood has absorbed enough water to expand and become water tight from top to bottom.
Whether I decide to go back to using this as an outdoor storage or convert it to a planter for this summer's tomatoes remains a game time decision. But in case you were wondering, 12 months in a Mediterranean climate under a protected eave is too long to leave a wine barrel dry.
That does not mean that I wouldn't recommend these large, durable, containers. They are ideal for those of us with small backyards but large ambitions. In my 1/4 acre lot, I have several of these barrels that I have planted with a variety of plants that I wouldn't otherwise have room for (or the proper setting for) including an orange tree (Citrus sinensis 'Washington') on my full-sun patio; a dwarf Albert Spruce (Picea glauca 'Conica') for a shady corner on a slab of concrete that borders my house; and a beautiful clump of Black Bamboo (Poaceae Phyllostachys nigra)that I would never, ever have the courage to plant in the ground but which sits happily in a wine barrel on top of another concrete slab in the back corner of my yard. I have even used a wine barrel as small water garden in years past. A constant barrage of media coverage on the dangers of the West Nile Virus finally convinced me to abandon my little pond though.
The moral of this story is: take care of your wine barrels and they will reward you with the freedom that comes with abundant possibilities.